NCAA Basketball conference play is about to begin in earnest, and the non-conference portion of the schedule has unmasked some potentially underrated teams that can do some damage.
We are approaching a brand new calendar year, which means we will soon be making NCAA Basketball picks predominantly on conference games.
That is not to say that nothing was learned from the non-conference portion of each team’s schedule, as we think quite a few teams were revelations that can exceed conference expectations this season. We are focusing on four teams that are not ranked on the national polls, as these teams may continue to stay under the radar in the early weeks of conference play.
Now keep in mind that we are not saying that these teams will compete for the NCAA Championship or anything of that nature. Rather, these are teams that we think are still undervalued and thus should be good bets until the odds catch up to their ability (or until we are proven wrong).
So here are four teams that are not that highly regarded that can wreak havoc on the conference standings on 2013.
Pittsburgh Panthers: There are currently five Big East teams ranked in the Top 25 on the AP poll and the 12-1 Panthers are not one of them. An obvious knock against Pittsburgh is its schedule, as it lost to the best team it faced in Michigan, although Pitt was competitive in that 67-62 defeat, and the Panthers have beaten only two teams currently ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100. However, Pittsburgh ranks fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is adjusted for schedule and 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Panthers are young but they do have that one senior leader in Tray Woodall. They are dangerous near the basket, hitting on 56.9 percent of their two-point shots, and adequate from beyond the three-point arc at 36.2 percent. Furthermore, Pittsburgh does not turn the ball over, ranking fifth in turnover percentage at just 15.5 percent of possessions, and it is a great offensive rebounding team ranking fourth in that department.
Wyoming Cowboys: The Cowboys are still an afterthought in the Mountain West Conference among a lot of forecasters despite their 12-0 start. After all, their most impressive win this year was probably a road win over an Illinois State team currently ranked 41st by Pomeroy, although they did beat Colorado at home when the Buffaloes were nationally ranked. Wyoming has just one other win over a Pomeroy Top 100 team, and we have read this book before as Wyoming began last season at 14-2, only to go 6-8 in Mountain West play. So why is this year different? Well for starters, this is now a senior laden team with experience at every position, and its methodical offense does an excellent job of find the best shot at the end of each possession. The Cowboys can frustrate teams with their deliberate pace, as they rank 337th in the nation with a pace rating o 62.0 possessions per game, but more importantly they are hitting 57.7 percent of their two-point shots at the end of those possessions, ranking third in the country in two-point percentage!
VCU Rams: The Rams are switching conferences this year, moving over to the Atlantic 10 after dominating the Colonial Conference the last several years, and they still have one of the best coaches in the country in Shaka Smart. VCU has three losses this year (9-3), which helps explain why it is not ranked, although all three losses came vs. teams in the Pomeroy Top 30 including a nine-point loss to a Duke team ranked first in the AP poll and third by Pomeroy on a neutral floor. The strong schedule by the Rams also includes double-digit wins over three teams ranked in the Top 65, with the most recent being a 19-point win over 64th ranked Alabama. VCU usually wins with defense, and it is ranked 13th in defensive efficiency while ranking second in the entire country in defensive turnover percentage, forcing turnovers on 29.5 percent of opponents’ possessions. To put that in perspective, the national average is 20.9 percent. The Rams are also improved offensively this year, ranking 21st in offensive efficiency.
Wichita State Shockers: The Shockers are 11-1, but the general consensus among many experts is that sharp-shooting Creighton will run away with the Missouri Valley Conference this year and that Wichita State’s offense will make the Shockers vulnerable even vs. the lesser teams in the conference. In fact that offense hurt the Shockers in their only loss vs. Tennessee, as they shot just 21-of-55 from the floor. Still, Wichita State has the best defense in the MVC and by a rather wide margin too. It currently ranks 19th in the country in defensive efficiency and that defense has keyed wins over a VCU team ranked 11th by Pomeroy on the road and over 43rd ranked Iowa on a neutral floor. The Shockers do not need to shoot as well as Creighton does because of that defense and it is not as if the Wichita State offense is totally inept. The Shockers have an adequate effective field goal percentage of 50.6 percent overall.